Charity turns Bristol into an international Jazz and Blues hotspot

March 2018 saw Bristol change into a jazz and blues haven with the annual 4-day, Spring festival.

There were over 50 concerts with a focus on jazz and blues. It’s hard to believe they only started in 2012, filling a gap in Bristol’s cultural calendar which didn’t have a major international music festival.

However, its success has been hard won. It wasn’t easy setting up and creating this diverse event.


Bristol’s long and illustrious association with jazz dates to the ‘50s and ‘60s when a dizzying array of stars – including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald –  regularly played to sell-out audiences at Colston Hall. But as Jazz went out of fashion and Rock and Roll took over, that market receded. 40 years later Jazz has revived and become a major influence in 21st century music. So, research showed there was a potential market: an under-served, older population and a new young group.


So, founders Colin Carrie and Denny Ilett contacted Colston Hall who readily accepted their proposal, the Arts Council were strongly supportive, and this gave them the tools to start. The components of the winning strategy were:

a) Broad appeal: Cater to all tastes and include music from all periods of jazz development for the past 100 years, as well as feature current exploration.

b) Quality of product: Programming must include the best and must therefore be international in scope, bringing to Bristol artists that rarely come to the city.

c) Focus on Bristol's artists and music industry: The city has been a leader in UK music development, so they work with, and give opportunities to the talent that is here.

d) Work with Bristol music education organisations: They cater to students and feature their bands. They work with Bristol's 2 Music Hubs, tour schools and assist top Bristol talent to tour world-wide.


They festival opened in 2013 with an audience of 6,000. Six years later, this buzzing event is drawing the crowds. Audiences have doubled, and they have grown the annual event from 3 to 4 days and from 1 to 3 venues. They now include workshops, master classes, tours to schools, a winter concert series, national extension of programmes to other cities and international exchanges. Their services provide a major contribution to music education and have increased tourism in Bristol during the shoulder season.

Setting up as a Charity has helped to keep ticket prices within reach of most pockets as they don’t pay VAT. Commissioning new work and touring music to schools, allows the charity more access to private and public-sector grants; their music is not profit-focused.

Why they joined the Chamber of Commerce:

“There is too often a dichotomy of attitude between business and the arts that is engendered from both sides. We contribute to the quality of life in our city as well as providing employment, education, entertainment and tourism. To do this successfully we must run as a business, and we come to the Chamber of Commerce because like any other community service we need your help, your contacts and your experience to improve our service.”

 For more information, please visit:

  • Are you planning for business growth?

    Work with our specialists to develop an effective growth management strategy to take your business to the next stage.

  • Are you planning for business growth?

    Work with our specialists to develop an effective growth management strategy to take your business to the next stage.